Pentagon Turns Away Mothers of Soldiers Killed in Iraq

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Members of Military Families Speak Out and veterans of the Iraq invasion and occupation gathered at National City Christian Church in Washington DC to remember the over 1,300 U.S. soldiers and the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. We hear the words of two mothers whose sons died in Iraq: Celeste Zappala and Cindy Sheehan. [includes rush transcript]

While many of Bush’s supporters spoke in glowing terms about the occupation of Iraq, there was a very different and more somber mood at National City Christian Church in Washington. Last night, members of Military Families Speak Out and veterans of the Iraq invasion and occupation gathered at an * “Eyes Wide Open”* event. On the steps of the church were scores of Army boots commemorating the more than 1,300 US soldiers who have died in Iraq. Inside the church there were hundreds more boots. There were also hundreds of pairs of civilian shoes, representing the more than 100,0000 Iraqis killed since the invasion began.

At the rally, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq spoke out against war to protest George Bush’s second inauguration. Among them was Celeste Zappala, mother of Sherwood Baker who was killed in Baghdad in April 2004.

  • Celeste Zappala, mother of slain soldier Sherwood Baker speaking at the “Eyes Wide Open” anti-inauguration rally in Washington DC.
  • Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq last April.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Mothers — mothers and sons, some who supported President Bush yesterday, and others who didn’t. Last night, on the steps of the church in Washington, D.C., one of the churches, a Quaker church in Washington, where scores of army boots commemorating the more than 1,300 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq. Inside the church, hundreds more boots. There were also hundreds of pairs of civilian shoes representing the more than 100,000 Iraqis who have died since the invasion began. At the rally outside, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq spoke out against war, protesting President Bush’s second inauguration. Among them, Celeste Zappala, mother of Sherwood Baker, killed in Iraq in Baghdad, April, 2004. She is part of a newly formed group of families who have lost loved ones in Iraq called “Gold Star Families.”

CELESTE ZAPPALA: Yesterday, as many of us gathered here for the events of the inauguration, Gold Star Families For Peace went to the Pentagon with hope of seeing and speaking with Donald Rumsfeld. Unfortunately, Mr. Rumsfeld chose once again to ignore us, and in my thought he ignores not only those of us who traveled to see him, but he refuses to look at the face, the reality of those you see symbolized in front of us. The gates were shut to us, but had I seen Mr. Rumsfeld, this is what I wanted to tell him — that I am the mother of three sons. One of my sons is a teacher, one works to eradicate hunger, but the one I am missing was a caseworker for mentally-challenged adults in Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania. He was 30 years old. He was the father of a little boy, now ten, and he was the husband of Debbie. He went to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and at one point, he was helping people to sandbag the Susquehanna river, which was overflowing, and he was recruited by the National Guardsmen who were working there and asked to join the National Guard. And he became — he told us that he really liked the company of the people who were there. They told him that he might have the chance to pay off his college loans, and that he would have the chance to serve his community. Like many of you we were frightened by the war clouds forming as talk of the invasion of Iraq grew, and I knew in particular what that might mean to my son in the National Guard. We opposed the invasion, and worked against it. As the months drew on, it became obvious to all that that invasion was turning out to be a terrible error. Sherwood was called up and went to Iraq in the beginning of March. He arrived in Baghdad on the 13th of March, and was assigned to the Iraq Survey Group, the people looking for the weapons of mass destruction. On the evening of April 26, a dog began to bark and there was someone at the door. I answered in the door, and in the dim light — it was just this time of day, was a Sergeant Major. At first I didn’t understand why he was there, and then it became clear to me. He had come to tell me that my sweet child had been killed that morning in Baghdad. He had come to tell me that he was the 720th soldier to die for this hideous miscalculation called the war in Iraq. He had come to say that Sherwood Baker was the first National Guardsman to die in combat in Pennsylvania since 1945. All who were silent in the face of this war are complicit in its action. And none of us — none of us can bear that sin of silence. And so we gather once again with these boots and the numbers have grown, 856 in July, 1,370 today, and behind every one is a family who every day cries for the one they have lost, and whose lives will never recover. I know that things will change, events will change, and some will look at this war and call it good and profitable. They will try to forget the faces, the memory, the boots of all of these dear souls, and the 100,000 Iraqis who lie in their own land. And so, I urge and pray for you and for all of us to not be overcome by cynicism and grief, but to take hope from each other, take hope for what the real sacrifices have been, and stand to tell the truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Celeste Zappala, lost her son Sherwood Baker, in Baghdad, Iraq.


AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, killed in Iraq last April also addressed the crowd.

CINDY SHEEHAN: Hi. I have had a very busy day today. Well, yesterday I was with Celeste when we tried to get a meeting with our Secretary of Defense, and we have been trying for weeks. We have been emailing, writing, calling. They finally stopped taking our calls. And I just saw all of these people today cheering for them and their policies, and I think if I had like $25 grand, I would probably have access to everybody in this administration, but I have paid a price that is priceless. You cannot put a price on what I have given to this country. I gave them my only — my oldest son — not my only son, but my oldest son, and they don’t even have the courtesy to reply to us to say, no, we’re not going to meet with you, or, you know, maybe later, or would you like to meet with another aide. They don’t even have the courtesy to meet with Gold Star Families. I was on “Good Morning, America” this morning, and they asked me why I opposed the inauguration, and I said, “While these people are partying tonight, there’s going to be more bloodshed. And I just think it’s very inappropriate to celebrate when there’s millions of people in harm’s way.”

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan lost her son, Casey, in Iraq. She was speaking yesterday at a display of 1,370 pairs of shoes to remember the 1,370 U.S. service men and women killed in Iraq. Also civilian shoes there, as well, to remember Iraqi civilians who have died, at a display that is traveling around the country called, “Eyes Wide Open,” that was started by the American Friends Service Committee.

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